Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud finished just one place outside the podium, helping their Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team strengthen its position in the Manufacturers’ Championship, at this weekend’s Rally d’Italia Sardegna; round seven of the FIA World Rally Championship.

The team has now extended its lead over Subaru’s factory outfit to three points, maintaining third spot in the manufacturers’ race, and claiming the second highest team points haul this weekend. With Solberg’s fine effort he now sits locked in a battle for fifth in the Drivers’ Championship with brother Petter.
Early rally leaders Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila led a WRC event for the first time in their, and the Stobart Team’s, history. They overcame retirement on leg 1 to set more fast times on the final six stages of the rally; ending their exciting weekend on a high and ready to tackle the next event in Greece. After retiring from day 2, Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr finished on a positive note with their improved performance being accredited to more accurate and confident pace-notes; as they climbed up to twelfth outright by rally’s end.

Today’s leg saw a move to the north of event headquarters in Olbia, running a short series of stages around Tempio Pausania and Arzachena. Again conditions were testing and road position played a key role on this very successful day for the Stobart Team. In typical Mediterranean fashion weather conditions could not have been any better for the fourth running of this event. Surface temperatures reached 38 degrees celsius as drivers tackled 1061.84 kilometres of total event distance.

The island again provided rough, narrow stages which took every ounce of concentration for crews to muster. Its rock-hard base with a loose sandy gravel coating left no room for error, just an inch off the racing line and your Sardinian dream could be shattered. True to tradition the massive crests which flourish throughout Sardinia’s gravel roadways have offered a great spectacle for photographers and spectators alike.

The battle was on between Solberg and Sordo for the final podium spot. The pair exchanged blows throughout the last day with the Spaniard, Sordo, just taking the place by 14.8 seconds. Solberg put up an incredible fight winning two stages and, at one point, closing the gap to a mere 3.9 seconds. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila also had a day full of fast stages including a second fastest time over the opening test of the morning. Leading the rally after three stages, before retiring with broken suspension on stage 4, the flying Finns will be ones to keep a very close eye on come next month, when the WRC heads to Greece for the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally.

After stopping eight kilometres into stage 10 with broken suspension, Wilson picked himself up for the final leg setting some impressive times despite the fact he was given the difficult task of sweeping the road as the number one competitor off the blocks.

It’s also been a successful weekend for Stobart Motorsport in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy with Scotsman Barry Clark and co-driver Scott Martin completing at hat-trick of wins in the highly competitive series. The pair have won all three rounds of the championship this year in their Stobart backed Ford Fiesta ST.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:

“I am happy with my times today, there were no big mistakes, but I did lose some time as I tried to go a bit too fast on the first pass when there was a lot of gravel on the road. It has been an up-and-down rally. To be leading the rally outright on Friday was an amazing feeling, just a shame with my problem when we broke the suspension on a rock. I have learnt much from this event; especially that I need to be able to drive when first on the road and be able to change my driving style for this in the future. It is also fantastic for me to end the rally on a high with a very good feeling with the car; it will help for the next event just a few weeks away.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:

“I said on Friday that it was my best ever day on a rally and this rally as a whole was one of my best. Friday was a big step up for me and the car felt amazing; Saturday was not so good but again today it was much more comfortable. I started this morning thinking it was possible to catch Sordo and I pushed hard to try and get fourth position back. We had six very good stages today and it was the best the car has ever felt for me. It has been a big step forward and if you look at the times, I am much closer to the winner than in most other rallies. Now I’m looking forward to Greece even more; the car feels great.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:

“Today was very difficult running first on the road. We chose a harder compound tyre to see how it would work in Greece; it did feel good on the second pass. We didn’t do anything stupid today and just settled into a comfortable pace; to be one second per kilometre off people who were battling for the podium is very positive. Overall it has been a good event, quite frustrating, but with our pace we were easily capable of finishing in the points. It would have been good to score a European point but there is still Greece to come before the summer break and I’m confident heading to this event. A lot of the improvement has come from my pace-note work and Robert Reid [former WRC Champion] has to take credit for his help and input with this.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:

“It has been another great team effort and everyone has performed exceptionally well. Jari-Matti had a blinding start to lead the rally outright and he backed this up with some other fast times on the final day. Henning’s fight on the last day was exciting and it showed that he has moved forward with his pace and confidence with the car. I would say this has been Matthew’s best performance to date. He has found a good pace which he is now able to build on in Greece. Overall an excellent weekend for the Stobart Team.”

Final Leaderboard

1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3h 48m 42.0sec

2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +29.2sec

3. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen C4 +1m 21.8sec

4. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +1m 36.6sec

5. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +2m 34.2sec

6. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen FIN Mitsubishi Lancer +5m 02.1sec

7. M Stohl/I Minor A Citroen Xsara +5m 28.6sec

8. J Hanninen/M Markkula FIN Mitsubishi Lancer +9m 31.7sec

9. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS +11m 27.7sec

10. C Atkinson/S Prevot AUS Subaru Impreza +16m 19.4sec

12. M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS +23m 25.1sec


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